Shed hunting tips for out West
By Karla Miller
I’m never down to see hunting season come to an end. It’s kind of depressing! As soon as it’s over, I am seriously counting down the days until the opening of the next season! I enjoy hunting for so many reasons – the exercise, the challenge, the incredible memories made, the experiences, the amazing places we get to see and the incredible people we get to meet that all share the same love and passion.
One of my favorite things to do to keep in shape and stay outside as much as possible during the off-season is to shed hunt! I didn’t get into it until a few years ago when my boyfriend – now husband, Scott, took me on a shed hunting date in Utah. When he found an elk shed, I tell you what, he was like a kid on Christmas!
I didn’t understand it at the time, but Scott would always tell me about the rush he would get from spotting a fresh bone on the ground and how even though he has a pile of hundreds of antlers, he remembers where each one came from and how he found it. I thought that sounded crazy, but he was so right!
The first antler I ever found I will never forget. I looked and hiked for so long, pretty much to the point of feeling defeated! But to finally spot one and wrap my fingers around the unique shape and smooth bone and to know I found it and it was mine – it’s truly the coolest feeling.
Tool of the Trade
At first it seemed like there was no strategy or plan to finding sheds. It felt like we were aimlessly wandering through the bushes to find some bones. Now that I’ve got a shed hunting trip or two under my belt and my own growing collection of antlers, I have learned there are some important tools and things to pay attention to if you want to grow your own stack of racks.
The absolute most important tool you can have for shed hunting is a solid set of binoculars or spotting scope. They are crucial because when you set out on a shed hunt, sticks and branches start to look an awful lot like an antler. The binocs help pick out exactly what you are looking at from a distance so you can do a quick check behind the glass rather than walking all the way over to what you thought was an antler, wasting time and energy.
The main key to shed hunting is knowing where the animals are wintering. For example, if you are looking for mule deer sheds in the West, the low foothills of the big mountains are a great start. If you are looking for moose sheds, which drop nearly two to three months earlier than mule deer, then you may want to start higher on the mountain where moose typically winter.
Each animal that sheds their antlers has a different time when they shed, and they usually winter in different locations. Knowing those details about whatever antlers you are after will help immensely. However, I’ve found fresh mule deer sheds in December, even though they typically shed in February and March, and I’ve found Caribou antlers in August, when they typically shed in November and December, so know it’s not always a set schedule.
The Work Begins
After you know where the animals have wintered, the rest is pretty straightforward. Get to a high vantage point and begin glassing with your binocs. This gives a good perspective to see around the terrain you will be hiking in. From there, begin hiking and always have your head on a swivel!
It’s tempting to look far out with the eyes, but sometimes an antler laying only two feet away will surprise you! You never know, which is why it’s important to look near and far, with the eye and the binoculars, and to always scan. It’s also a good idea to check behind you every 50 to 100 yards. Sometimes sheds can be laying in the perfect hiding spot when looking from one spot, but become visible from another spot.
When you scan, be looking for the tips of antlers poking up out of the brush, or the brownish and/or white shine from the antler. You will know one when you see it! I remember wondering on my first hunt how I was going to be able to tell the difference between a branch and an antler because they so look similar at times. However, when I locked eyes on the shine of my first shed ever, a fresh two-point from a mule deer, I knew immediately what it was!
Having a growing pile of antlers in the house is pretty much the coolest. They are one of my favorite pieces to decorate with, especially since they all have such unique shapes, sizes, colors and stories to them. My incredibly creative and talented mother loves antlers just as much as I do, and after building up a pile for her, she began to have some fun with creating beautiful pieces of art with, and on, the antlers. It has now become a passion of hers.
Even cooler, Scott and I and the rest of my family have totally loved taking part in painting them and creating with them as well, so it turned into a fun thing for our families to do together, which is so special to me. Just like hunting, shed hunting evolved into so much more to me than just finding as many antlers as possible. I fell in love with it for the time I get to spend with my husband, the amazing places we get to see, the people we get to meet and go with, and the art and memories we create with our families.
Karla Miller is cover girl of the Winter 2016 issue. Check out her bio on page 6.